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Helsinki feels like a mix of colorful St. Petersburg, Russia with sleek, Scandinavian design. On a Scandinavian cruise, perhaps there’s no city more enigmatic than Helsinki, with its cultural Baltic warmth and deeply cold Finnish winters. As the capital of Finland, Helsinki holds up as an art and culture hub thanks to museums like the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, the Design Museum, or the National Museum of Finland. Many Finnish citizens go to the sauna several times a week, and if it’s rejuvenation you’re after, spas like Kotiharjun Sauna or Löyly are a must-try experience.
Helsinki packs in fun for all ages, like at the local amusement part Linnanmaki, or the zoo at Korkeasaari. The Baltic Sea is well within reach on multiple sides of the archipelago, making it easy to dip into the water at Hietaniemi Beach or just feel a sea breeze on your face on a summer evening as you enjoy dinner on the waterfront. Before you go, check out the concert schedule at the Musiikkitalo, a music center that often features classical performances that will amaze you. When it comes to cruises to Helsinki, you’ll have to make up your own mind about this quirky city.
Built in the 18th century, the island fortress of Suomenlinna is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes some fun things to do like museums, a brewery, restaurants, and walking trails. More than just an old fort, Suomenlinna is a short ferry ride away and a great spot for a picnic while stopped on your Helsinki cruise.
Beautifully and unexpectedly designed—because what else would you come to expect in Helsinki?—the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is a must-see during your time in the city if you like contemporary art and risk-taking design. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to it every year to see works by over 8,000 contemporary artists.
Because Finnish design is so recognizable all over the world, it makes sense that Helsinki would pay a stunning tribute to the role of design in Finland and other parts of the world at the Design Museum. It’s a primer on Finnish culture and a great way to dip your toes into truly beautiful international design, even if you know nothing about it.
This urban park and monument to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius offers a peaceful retreat from the noise and activity of the city. Built in the 1960s, the monument was meant to reflect a musicality through its pipe shapes. Walk for a while, sit on one of the benches, and take a moment of quiet here.
The Helsinki Cathedral is hard to miss. It commands attention due to its massive size and white, neoclassical architecture. The cathedral looks down over Helsinki with a calm and watchful eye. Head inside for a tour, and you may be surprised to find that the interior is far more reverent and minimal than the opulent exterior.
Helsinki’s best-known shopping experience is Market Square, which has been open and operating for over 100 years now. More than just sellers with booths, there are stores selling souvenirs and handmade Finnish goods, and restaurants preparing regional delicacies like salmon soup and cabbage rolls.
Hietaniemi Beach is one of the most popular in all of Helsinki and is commonly crowded in the summertime. Play a round of beach volleyball, then take a dip in the water to cool off.
Gastro Cafe Kallio
Address: Fleminginkatu 7, 00530 Helsinki, Finland
At the laid-back Gastro Cafe, coffee is a staple on the menu. You’ll also find regional Finnish delicacies, including cooked snail, baked fish, and a rotating, seasonal menu.
Helsinki Coffee Roastery Coffee Bar
Address: Päijänteentie 29, 00510 Helsinki, Finland
Coffee is taken very seriously in Finland, and the locals often structure their day around coffee breaks. What’s unique about Helsinki Coffee Roastery is that there’s no salesperson in between the roaster and roastery when buying coffee. Grab a hot cup of coffee and a book and settle in.
Address: Pohjoisesplanadi 5, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
For a truly upscale dining experience in Helsinki, make a reservation at Olo, a Michelin-starred Finnish restaurant where the multi-course menu takes a minimum of two hours for the experience to fully unfold. The menu changes seasonally.
Originally, Finland was part of Sweden, and stayed under Swedish rule for hundreds of years. During the Middle Ages and beyond, Helsinki slowly became known as a port and trade city. By 1812, Helsinki was named the capital of Finland, which attracted universities, arts institutions, and affluent benefactors who invested in the capital and began building many of its signature architectural marvels. Today, the population of Helsinki is over a half a million, and the city is growing. Locals primarily speak Finnish, but some speak Swedish. Many of the road signs are in Finnish, but luckily many locals know basic English and are more than happy to help out those visiting the city on a Helsinki cruise.
There are two harbors where cruise ships dock. Larger Helsinki cruise ships will arrive at West Harbor, either at Melkki Quay or Katajanokka Quay, where you’ll find ATMs, a currency exchange counter, trolley stops, and areas to hail a taxi from. Free wifi is offered within the city center of Helsinki.
There’s pretty much every form of transportation imaginable in Helsinki, whether you want to tackle the city center on your own two feet, rent bicycles to go off-the-beaten path, or hop in a taxi. Make sure your taxi driver turns on the meter to ensure you get the proper fare. There are hop-on/hop off tour buses catering specifically to cruise passengers and travelers, so keep an eye out for those as well. The city is walkable once you arrive in downtown, and there are a couple of shuttle buses that can bring you back to the West Harbor as needed.
There’s more shopping at the smaller cruise port at South Harbor than West Harbor, particularly boutiques that are focused on Finnish design. Close to the center of town, Kamppi Shopping Mall has over 100 shops and dozens of restaurants where you can sample traditional Finnish foods. Near the cruise port at the iconic Market Square, you’ll find standard souvenirs and trinkets to take home.
The official currency used in Finland is the euro, and you’ll find that credit and debit cards are generally accepted most places when you arrive on a Helsinki cruise. Tipping isn’t a big thing in Finland, and most restaurants include a service charge on your bill.